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Adobe Firefly generated painting of students in a classroom

Rob Vanderlan, Executive Director of the Center for Teaching Innovation, is no stranger to the disruption that generative AI tools can bring to a classroom. He and his CTI colleagues Amy Cheatle and Becky Lane will be sharing some of their experiences in the afternoon breakout session, Introducing Messy, Divisive, and Transformational Technology at Cornell: Tales from the Classroom, as part of the Emerging Tech Dialogues: AI in Higher Education symposium on May 29, 2024.

“I think it’s been clear since the release of ChatGPT in November of 2022 that generative AI tools had the potential to significantly change how learning happens at Cornell in almost every discipline,” said Vanderlan.

He believes the conversational chatbots pose both a challenge and an opportunity and said, “We can explore generative AI tools together and answer important questions such as: how might these tools accelerate student learning? Conversely, how might they get in the way of learning and practicing essential skills? What can we do to make sure students stay engaged in meaningful learning? How can we help faculty (and students) develop critical artificial intelligence literacies?”

Addressing questions like these is central to the work of the CTI team, and like all good instructors, they strive to help their students – Cornell faculty-- come to their own answers.

Vanderlan said, “We have devoted significant time to our own learning, research, and exploration, and we have worked to share that developing knowledge with faculty in a range of ways: events, web resources, blog posts, case studies of faculty responding to AI in their teaching, and many facilitated department or individual conversations.”

In their breakout session on May 29, the CTI team will hit some of the high points from their previous use cases and engage their audience in the evolving conversation around the application of AI in the classroom. Vanderlan recommends approaching the conversation with twin attributes: curiosity and critical thinking.

“We hope our faculty will embrace these two attributes, the same attributes we try to develop in our students,” he said. “Curiosity because it is exciting to see how these technologies are emerging and evolving, and to consider all the ways they might be put to use. Critical thinking because these tools all raise important and difficult questions about ethical use, sustainability, bias, and the potential for abuse and harm.” He continued, “As always, faculty know best what they want their students to learn, and how they need to demonstrate their learning. We can help them think through how AI might impact that essential learning.”

From white boards and clickers to mobile devices in the classroom and learning management systems, Cornell’s CTI staff members have carefully avoided advocating for a specific brand or technology in the past and they won’t be recommending a particular generative AI tool. They view their role not as a vendor representative but an informed guide: someone to help faculty understand how these tools work, how they might impact learning, how they might be integrated into courses, or how they might be artfully avoided, and what is at stake in how each instructor answers these questions for themselves.

Vanderlan looks forward to guiding more teachers and learners on May 29 and shared what he hopes will be the main take-away for participants in their breakout session. He said, “It is a brave new world (with both optimistic and ominous echoes), and it calls on us all to engage and respond. There are many ways to respond, many ways in which this can push us to more engaged, critical, reflective teaching practice. I hope everyone in the audience will realize we do our best thinking in dialogue with each other and we work best when we learn from each other.”

More Perspectives on AI in the Classroom from Weill, CALS, and CVM

In addition to the CTI discussion, several other breakout sessions and posters will feature perspectives on AI in education. Weill Cornell Medicine Director of Educational Computing Doug Cohen will share his insights about AI in Education during an online poster presentation, while Amie Patchen and Kim Scholl from the Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine will lead a breakout session, Teaching Critical Thinking at a Time when GAI can Produce Easy Answers: Instruction Strategies to Foster Core Skills.

Representing the Cornell College of Arts and Sciences, Michelle Crow’s poster on Graduate Writers, Generative AI, and the English Language Support Office explores what she and her colleagues have learned about the ethics and effectiveness of the use of generative AI for academic writing by international graduate and professional students.

See the full agenda on the May 29 event page. In person registration is now full, but online participation includes access to all the keynotes, posters, and breakout sessions and that registration remains open until noon on Tuesday, May 28, 2024.



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